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EU to take Legal Action against Britain over immigrants benefits

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EU to take Legal Action against Britain over immigrants benefits

Post  Panda on Thu 30 May - 17:33

Iain Duncan Smith accuses Brussels of 'blatant land grab' in immigrant
benefit row

Britain will not give EU immigrants any more benefits, Iain Duncan Smith has
insisted, after Brussels launched legal action to get him to relax the rules.

Migrants who believe they are
not getting access to work or the same social benefits as Britons will be give
"an appropriate means of redress at national level" under the new EU
legisaltion. Photo: REX

By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent
and Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

10:54AM BST 30 May 2013


The Work and Pensions Secretary accused Brussels of trying to interfere with
Britain's welfare policy and pledged to fight its "heavy-handed" court action.

He hit back after Brussels said the UK's test stopping some EU migrants
getting jobless, pension and child benefits is illegal and "discriminatory".

It is launching a case in the European Court of Justice against Britain's
extra "right to residence" test, which has been in force since 2004.

The Commission's position flies in the face of David Cameron's new crackdown
on foreigners "abusing" public services in a practice known as "benefit

The European Commission has said there is no evidence that Britain suffers
from "benefit tourism" and accused politicians of "misrepresenting" the true

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Its legal action has also fuelled fury among Conservative backbenchers, who
have been long pushing for a referendum on Britain's EU membership.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four's World at One, Mr Duncan Smith said the European
Commission's action was a "blatant land grab" into an area in which it has no

“The agreement in all the treaties was that this area of social security,
social welfare, was a matter that was left to national governments," he said.

"It was not something that the European Commission and the courts were meant
to get involved in."

He said Britain is not alone and the "Germans, the Dutch, the Danes, the
Spanish" have some sympathy with the view that Brussels is interfering too much
in welfare policy.

“There is a real concern here that what they are trying to do is to take a
heavy hand to ensure that people…not that people come to work – we are very keen
that people can travel Europe and they can seek work," he said.

"What we are not keen is if we have a system here that allows them to select
the better benefit system to come and use, and then come to that country for

However, a spokesman for the European Commision accused Government ministers,
including Mr Duncan Smith, of stoking up anti-EU sentiment in the UK by
“misrepresenting” the decision to go to court.

“It is inevitable that it will fan the flames of debate. It has been
misrepresented and misinterpreted by some,” he said.

“It is simply not true that people can claim benefits after getting of a
plane under EU rules.

“It is a dialogue of the deaf. They insist they are right and that the
commission, the guardian of the treaties, is wrong.”

The commission said 64 per cent of 42,810 EU nationals applying for benefits
in Britain 2009 to 2011 were refused, arguing that this is evidence of

Commission officials have rejected any negotiations to adapt the EU’s freedom
of movement rules to Britain's current system of benefit payments.

“We cannot apply different rules for the UK than those that apply to 26 other
member states,” said a commission spokesman. “The UK has chosen to have a
different system.”

Commission officials told the Telegraph that repeated meetings with the
Government, including "informal contacts, had failed to bridge the impasse
leading to the court challenge to British law".

"The commission believes that the UK's so-called 'right to reside' test fails
the EU legal 'habitual residence' requirement. As a result of this
discriminatory test EU citizens cannot receive social security benefits, such as
child benefit, to which they are entitled under European law," said an official.

"The commission asked Britain to end this discrimination against EU nationals
in September 2011 but no measures have been notified to us."

The commission will argue that welfare benefits "unfairly and illegally"
denied to EU migrants include, child benefit, child tax credit, income based
jobseeker's allowance, state pension credit and income based employment and
support allowances.

Commission lawyers are acting on complaints made by EU nationals living in
Britain and there are a number of petitions complaining about discrimination
lodged in the European Parliament.

The Prime Minister launched a crackdown on foreigners claiming benefits
earlier this year under pressure from his eurosceptic backbenchers. The UK
Independence Party, which is surging in the polls, has raised fears of a new
wave of immigrants claiming benefits when restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian
immigrants are lifted early next year.

Peter Lilley, a Conservative MP and former Social Security Secretary, said
the European Commission's intervention would be "costly, unwelcome and

He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme it was an example of Brussels trying
to "extend its powers" and strengthens the case for Mr Cameron trying to
renegotiate the relationship.

Britain is not the only country unhappy with the current rules. Earlier this
year, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, gained support from Germany, Austria and
Holland in a letter to the European Commission demanding tighter restrictions on
access to welfare benefits.

The four countries wrote to the commission demanding a review of the 2004 EU
directive that sets out free movement rights allowing migrants from European
countries, such as Romania or Bulgaria, to establish residency and to claim
welfare benefits.

"The European Commission has thrown a hand grenade into an already intense
debate about the UK's continued EU membership. At a time when public support for
both the EU and immigration are wafer thin, this is the worst possible issue the
Commission could have sought to challenge, at the worst possible time," said
Stephen Booth of the Open Europe think tanbk.

"This is legally complex but the Government has no option but to fight this
case all the way. It should also seek the help of other countries which have
expressed similar concerns in order to rewrite EU rules to reflect the UK's
universal welfare system."

Diplomats have suggested that the commission court case against Britain is
motivated by "nipping in the bud" moves by increasing numbers of government to
make it more difficult establish residency in order to claim benefits.

One of the cases taken up by the commission as part of its legal challenge
involves a woman who had lived in Italy for 18 years before coming to Britain to
work for an Italian company. She then worked in the UK from April 2007 until
April 2009 when she was made redundant.

"Throughout her employment in the UK, she paid taxes and national insurance
contributions, yet her claim for income-based jobseekers' allowance was refused
on the grounds that she did not have a right to reside in the UK," a commission
document argues.

"If the UK had applied EU social security coordination rules, those citizens
confirmed as habitually resident in the UK would enjoy the same protection as
habitual residents in other EU member states."

The commission's legal case will centre on the "habitual residence" test that
is currently criticised as too weak by Britain, Germany, Holland and Austria.

The "thorough and strict application" of the test is seen, by the commission,
as a "a powerful tool for member states to make sure that these social security
benefits are only granted to those genuinely residing habitually within their

The commission regards Britain additional "right to reside" test as "imposed
unilaterally by the UK" and a measure that only British nationals can qualify
for "solely on the basis of their UK citizenship, whereas other EU nationals
have to meet additional conditions in order to pass".

"This means that the UK discriminates unfairly against nationals from other
member states. This contravenes EU rules on the coordination of social security
systems which outlaw direct and indirect discrimination in the field of access
to social security benefits," the commission's legal case argues.

New Brussels proposals tabled last month ignored the British, German, Dutch
and Austrain protests over benefits tourism by making it easier for migrants to
move to Britain including "redress against any breach of rights".

Laszlo Andor, the EU commissioner for "employment, social affairs and
inclusion", has dismissed the concerns and accused the Government of
scaremongering with claims "inflated because of domestic political reasons".

"We have been requesting figures from the administration and we have never
been given them," he said. It has been proven on a number of occasions that
financial implications and estimates of EU migration have been significantly
inflated," he said last month.

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